Appetizers
April 24, 2013
Health woes force permanent closure of beloved Market Club

Marketclub.jpg

By now, many of the regulars at the Market Club have begun to make peace with and mourn the bad news, that their beloved little out-of-the-way eatery was closed for good after decades of good food and service that made it seem like a second home.

Owner Jim Sakata suffered a heart attack in early April, shut the Market Club on an emergency basis and then never reopened. There was no farewell. No send-off. No party. No time to say goodbye and thanks for the memories.

Reached at his home, Sakata, 62, told me he suffered a heart attack within days of a health inspection report that forced the temporary closure of the restaurant. The inspector found rats droppings in a storage area. Sakata said he hired a crew to clean it up and take care of the problem, hoping to reopen soon.

"The next day, I just felt really lousy," he said. "I was home and got up to go to the bathroom and I just collapsed. I felt weak. There was a slight tightening in my chest. I'm fine now, but I don't think I can keep going the way I was going. I was working pretty much seven days a week. It was just me and my wife."

Started by Roy Tomita, the Market Club was beloved by many for the hearty cooking and the homey ambience. To a younger generation of foodies, the Market Club was the coolest little eating joint in town, with honest food and an impossibly cool location - tucked into a weathered old loading dock off 5th Street and Broadway. It served only breakfast and lunch, and it closed at 1 p.m.

Tomita sold the restaurant to Sakata about 18 years ago on the condition that everything stay the way it was - the same style, the same recipes, the same vibe, friendly and unassuming.

Sakata ran the place with his wife Mona, but really, they were married to the Market Club. It was their life. In bed by 8:30 p.m., up at 4 a.m. and open by 5:30 a.m. Customers had their favorite dishes, but the braised short ribs were the most famous, followed by the "broasted" chicken - chicken deep-fried under pressure so the skin was crispy and the meat tender and juicy. For breakfast, one of the late Tomita's old recipes - hamburger royal - was the most popular: ground beef, onions, oyster sauce and eggs over rice.

"After 18 years, we were getting a little tired," he said.

After the heart attack, Sakata and his wife, Mona, realized the restaurant was getting the best of them and it was time to move on. The Market Club never reopened. Sakata says the entire structure will eventually be torn down and new condominiums will be built at the site. The Market Club shared the complex with Produce Express, which sells to many of the area's best restaurants.

Asked if he had considered selling the restaurant, Sakata said, "I thought about it, but I think it would be cruel to sell it to some kid who dreamed of having his own restaurant. He would have to spend thousands of dollars to bring it up to code and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance. We never had any problems serving handicapped people, but were just flying under the radar as far as ADA compliance."

For now, Sakata is continuing to recover, resting at home. An 18 handicap golfer, he says he plans to spend more time on his game "and just enjoy life a little."

He also stressed that he wished he could have said so long to all of the regulars who made the Market Club such a beloved gem.

"I just want to thanks to all of our regular customers. Over the years, they've become friends. I know them by their names and what they order. It was just a very friendly place," he said.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

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